Election News

Electoral College and Senate Ratings Changes from Sabato's Crystal Ball

Note:  The team at Sabato's Crystal Ball is holding a livestreamed discussion of the 2020 political landscape today at noon Eastern Time.  It is free; no registration is required.  Watch it here.

Sabato's Crystal Ball has made three changes to its 2020 Electoral College outlook and changes to three Senate races in 2020.  The maps below reflect the updated forecast; click or tap for an interactive version.

Electoral College

Colorado and Maine (at-large) move from Leans to Likely Democratic, while North Carolina goes from Leans Republican to Toss Up.


Two of the most closely-watched races this cycle are updated. Arizona moves from Toss Up to Leans Democratic, while Maine goes from Leans Republican to Toss Up. In Georgia's regular Senate election (incumbent David Perdue), the rating moves in his favor from Leans to Likely Republican.

Rep. Mark Meadows Resigns to Become White House Chief of Staff

Rep. Mark Meadows resigned from the U.S. House Monday.  He will assume the post of White House Chief of Staff Tuesday, succeeding Mick Mulvaney.  Meadows has been acting in that role for President Trump in recent weeks. For example, he represented the president on the recent $2.2. trillion response to the coronavirus.

Meadows was in his 4th term representing North Carolina's 11th district. This is a fairly safe GOP district, despite the inclusion of the more liberal Asheville area in recent court-ordered redistricting.  A special election, if one is held, may be concurrent with the November 3 general election. Gov. Roy Cooper will make that determination.

There are now six vacancies in the U.S. House.  Democrats control 232 seats, Republicans 196 and one independent.

The Road to 270: Rhode Island

The Road to 270 is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island

Rhode Island was more competitive in the 2016 than it has been since 1988. Given that Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 16%, this means little for its top-line electoral fortunes in November. It could, however, indicate a future where Republicans can credibly compete.

The tiny state — it’s the smallest of them all — packs enough people in to give it four Electoral College votes rather than the minimum of three (although it might not be so lucky following the upcoming Census).  Most of the population lives in the coastal and urban areas which favored Clinton while inland ones voted for Trump. In this way, the state looks like the country: its coastal and urban communities are Democratic and its inland ones are Republican. Before we get too deep into the state’s current political and demographic condition, we’ll look back before it was a state.

Becoming A State

Providence Plantations, the first European settlement in the territory that would become Rhode Island, was established in 1636 as a haven for non-traditional religious views. The Founders of the U.S. Constitution would later be inspired by one of the settlement’s ideals in particular — the separation of church and state.

Other settlements quickly followed and in 1644, they united and formed the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The colony’s economy relied on the slave trade — selling rum in exchange for slaves and molasses (with which to make more rum). Fed up with British control and taxation, Rhode Islanders attacked and burned a British ship off their shore. The event, known as the Gaspee Affair, was one of the first examples of violent resistance and edged the colonies closer to revolution.

The first of the 13 colonies to declare independence and the last to ratify The Constitution, Rhode Islanders had an independent streak. They preferred the decentralized Articles of Confederation and only approved the new constitution after promises of a Bill of Rights.

After the American Revolution came the Industrial Revolution and Rhode Island was again at the forefront of change. The state’s first textile machine came in 1787 and its first mill established in 1790. Rhode Island would become home to textile, machine parts, and jewelry industries. Immigrants and Rhode Islanders in search of jobs moved to urban areas, particularly those around Pawtucket (where the first textile mills were established) and Providence.  

These workers, though, were excluded from state politics through the mid 1800s. Residents without property couldn’t vote and rural regions had outsized representation in the state legislature. In an attempt to take back power from the Yankee rural elite, Thomas Dorr established a populist party in 1841 with which he created a new government with a new constitution. The existing government quickly ended what is known as The Dorr Rebellion but, in a win for the urban working class, began allowing the landless, native-born, population to vote.

Civil War, Economic Boom, Shift to Democrats

During the Civil War, Rhode Island fought with Lincoln and the rest of the north. In fact, the state was one of the first to abolish segregation in public schools, an act taken in 1866. Rhode Island would vote, along with its northern neighbors, reliably Republican though the 19th Century.

After the war, Rhode Island’s economic and demographic trends continued. Industrial jobs dominated the economy and workers packed into cities to get those jobs. In the cities of Pawtucket, Providence, Central Falls, and Woonsocket, manufacturing and whaling reigned. Newport, in the state's south, was reserved for the wealthy. Summer beach homes and mansions filled the wealthy enclave, distinguishing it from the working-class character in the state’s north.

All through this booming economy, Rhode Island would vote Republican. It did so in every election from 1856 through 1924 except one year, 1912, when Republicans split their vote between William Taft and Theodore Roosevelt.

As the economy began to stumble in the 1920s, Republicans lost their grip on the state. Due in part to the popularity of a synthetic silk called Rayon, the textile industry took a hit in the 1920s and Rhode Islanders lost jobs. Democrats also organized growing urban, Catholic, immigrant, and labor communities into a voting coalition that, along with economic frustration, tipped the state to Democrat Alfred Smith in 1928. With the advent of Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt’s popular New Deal, Rhode Island shifted further into the Democratic camp — a transition that would never be reversed.  From 1928 through 2016, the only Republicans to win the state would be the moderate Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan in their landslides of 1972 and 1984.

World War II to 2020

World War II changed the state’s economy. As textile mills went out of business, the state manufacturing capacity shifted towards ship and submarine building. The Navy became the state’s largest employer and the defense industry continued to build up around it.

Demographic change accompanied the economic one. After the war, soldiers and urbanites left the cities — with their cramped living conditions, bad schools and unsafe streets — for the more comfortable suburbs. Providence lost nearly 70,000 residents between 1950 and 1970. Meanwhile, Cranston and Warwick, outside the city, nearly doubled in size. Natural and man-made disasters — including hurricanes in 1954, 1955, 1985, and 1991 and oil spills in 1989 and 1996 — disrupted urban renewal development meant to draw Rhode Islanders back into the cities. Providence’s population peaked in 1940 at 254,000 and bottomed out in 1980 at 157,000.

During this period, immigration to Rhode Island continued. Even as the cities were shrinking from 1950 to 1980, the state grew by over 150,000. Immigrants were simply moving into the suburbs and then the “outer suburban rings” and rural towns, including Charlestown, Glocester, Narragansett, Scituate, and West Greenwich.

The defense industry took more hits in the 1970s when the Navy decided to relocate its destroyer fleet out of Newport and deactivate the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point. While Newport still has a naval station and defense manufacturing continued for another two decades, the drawdown and end of the Cold War all but ended manufacturing as the state’s economic backbone.  

In its place came the service industries of tourism, education, finance, and business. Tourists came for the state’s history, beaches, environment and natural charm. Students and educators came for the Providence-based Ivy League, Brown University. Businesses including Citizens Bank and CVS Pharmacy moved their headquarters to the state in the 1990s. While manufacturing is continuing to shrink, the state still produces submarines, ships, jewelry, and silverware.

Today, Rhode Island ranks 13th in portion of the population with a Bachelor’s Degree and 18th for median household income. These stats are less impressive when compared to Rhode Island’s rich and educated New England neighbor states. The state also has a high cost of living, tight business regulations, notoriously deficient infrastructure, and sluggish GDP growth, low factory wages, public corruption, and a large budget deficit. Most of these problems have plagued the state for decades and continue today.

Democratic Dominance and a Turn to Trump

Rhode Island has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, doing so with double digit margins each year. No Republican would win a single of the state’s five counties from 1988 until Donald Trump managed to flip one in 2016.

At the turn of the Century, Rhode Island was clearly Democratic but not geographically divided like it is today. In 2000, Al Gore beat George Bush by 29%. That year, there was not a clear geographic split that determined if a town or congressional district voted more heavily Democratic or Republican than another. Communities across the state voted for Gore.

Compare that to the 2016 election in which Hillary Clinton carried the state by a smaller 16%. This time, the election featured a clear geographic divide — communities on the coast and in metro areas supported Hillary Clinton while those inland voted for Trump. The reason behind this geographic split, however, lies in demographics.

The state is about 72% white, 16% Hispanic, 8%, black, and 4% Asian. The demographic group that has shifted most toward the GOP in recent years is non-college educated white voters. This population makes up 51% of the state.

If we look at the town in which Trump received the highest percentage of the vote — Scituate, which is located in the center of the state — we see that, relative to the state as a whole, it is far whiter (96% to 72%), less educated (33% to 40%) , and less wealthy ($63,000 to $93,000 median household income)  than the state as a whole. While Al Gore received only 6 votes fewer (less than .01% of the vote) than Bush in 2000, Donald Trump clobbered Clinton by 25% in 2016.

If we now look to Clinton’s best city — Providence — we see that, compared to the state, it is far more diverse (43% Hispanic and 16% black) than the state overall. While, in 2000, Al Gore received 74% of the vote, Clinton managed 81% in 2016. A similar trend can be seen in the wealthy enclaves and beach towns along coast.

These two examples illustrate the dominant trends in Rhode Island. First, the white working-class voters who populate the state’s inland communities are shifting rightward. Second, the more diverse communities, as well as the rich, educated coastal ones, are sticking with, or moving towards, Democrats.

Even with these internal changes, however, the state as a whole looks safe for Democrats. While it will be instructive to see if Donald Trump’s populist message is again able to appeal to slices of the state, the big picture is clear: Rhode Island will be blue in November.

Next Week: Utah 

Reports in this series:

New York Moves Primary to June 23; Majority of Remaining Delegates Now to be Allocated that Month

New York will delay its presidential primary and 27th congressional district special election from April 28 to June 23. That is the previously scheduled date for the state's non-presidential primaries. The congressional seat has been vacant since Rep. Chris Collins resigned last September.

With this move, a rescheduled Ohio contest is the only one remaining on April 28, which was to have been the second busiest day on the 2020 Democratic calendar. That now looks to be June 2 with 686 pledged delegates available across 10 states and Washington, D.C.  The month of June now potentially has 1,075 delegates up for grabs, almost 2/3 of the 1,668 remaining from contests not yet held.

We say potentially because Louisiana, Kentucky and now New York have scheduled their contests after June 9, the latest allowable date per Democratic Party rules.  It is possible the states could be penalized with a loss of half of their delegates.  That seems unlikely given the situation, but those are the rules as written.

Separately, Hawaii has moved the deadline for its now all-mail primary from April 4 to May 22. This leaves Wisconsin, on April 7, as the next primary on the schedule.  Whether this can go forward in a way that doesn't disenfranchise many voters remains to be seen.

Delegate Update

As of March 28, per NPR and Associated Press, Joe Biden has a 303 delegate lead over Bernie Sanders. 1,677 delegates remain (including 9 from completed contests). Biden needs to win just over 46% of those to clinch the Democratic nomination.  


The Road to 270: Kansas

The Road to 270 is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.


Kansas has been one of the most consistently Republican states since its founding. It has voted accordingly in each presidential election except seven. Its current Republican streak goes back to 1964 and before that to 1936. Kansas also produced some of the 20th Century’s most influential Republicans — Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Dole, Alf Landon among them — yet still elected a Democrat as governor in 2018.

Kansas is also the political and demographic sibling of the state we covered last week, Nebraska. You can find that piece here if you are interested in comparing the two.

Pre-Statehood History

In 1541, over 350 years before Kansas would become a part of the United States, a Spanish explorer went to the region in search of gold. Disappointed, the Spanish slowed their exploration through the 16th and 17th Centuries. Then, in 1720, when Native Americans killed a unit of the Spanish military, exploration stopped. France did establish a trading post in 1724, and the two countries alternatively claimed the land until the United States bought it from France as a part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Two years later, that land was organized into the Louisiana Territory and later the Missouri Territory in 1821.

From the 1820s through the 1850s, future-Kansas was reserved as Indian Territory. Native American tribes were squeezed into ever narrower regions as the Indian Removal Act forced tribes from the eastern United States to relocate west of the Mississippi River. Starting in the 1840s, travelers on the Oregon Trail began crossing Kansas’s northeastern corner. Illegal settlers pushed for territorial rights and in 1854, the United States established the Kansas Territory in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That law is most famous for repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing states to independently determine the legality of slavery within their borders. The new Kansas Territory comprised modern-day Kansas and parts of Colorado.

Now that the territory was open to new settlers, pro-slavery “Bushwhackers” and anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” moved from around the country to try and influence the impending vote on slavery. The contention turned violent and a period known as Bleeding Kansas began and would continue even after 1859 when Kansans passed a constitution that outlawed slavery. In 1861, Kansas was admitted as the 34th state of the Union, bringing about the end of Bleeding Kansas.

Kansas’s political battle over slavery, however, was a foreshadow of the nation’s. During the Civil War, Kansas fought for the Union and, in its first presidential election, Kansas gave Abraham Lincoln 79% of the popular vote — a higher percentage than any other state.

Civil War Through WWI

Over the next three decades, Kansas’s population would explode. Settlers continued to come for the fertile prairie land and friendly climate. Workers found ready employment with the construction of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, a project that brought immigrants and freemen from other states. The population grew from 107,000 in 1860 to 1,428,000 in 1890. More people moved to the state in those thirty years than would do so in the next 110.  

In the 1890s, economic depression, low crop prices, drought, tornadoes, and deflation lowered farmers’ incomes and expectations, the latter of which had been inflated by good agricultural conditions of the 1880s. These economic grievances gave rise to the populist movement in Kansas. From 1864 to 1888 Kansas voted, like most of the north, for Republican presidential candidates. But frustrated and indebted farmers voted for Populist Party candidate James Weaver in 1892 and the populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Both candidates supported the coinage of silver, a policy to raise inflation and help indebted farmers.

The famously titled editorial, “What’s the Matter with Kansas”, was written by a conservative Kansan in 1896 arguing against Bryan and populist policies that are causing Kansas to lose “wealth, population and standing.” While the argument won over more conservative voters in small towns, the aggravated agrarian population overwhelmed them, swinging the vote to Bryan.

Kansas next voted Democratic for Woodrow Wilson in 1912 as Republicans split their vote between Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. Wilson would also win the state in 1916, a reward for keeping the U.S. out of World War I — a policy of particular popularity among the state’s German population.

From there, Kansas’s presidential electoral history is simple: no Democrat would win statewide outside of the massive landslides in 1932, 1936, and 1964. After 1964, all but two Republican nominees would carry the state by double digits.

Great Depression, WWII, and a Changing Economy

World War I had pushed Kansans to increase their agricultural (mostly wheat) and oil production. The tapping of the El Dorado oil field near Wichita kicked off an industry that would eventually reduce Kansas’s reliance on agriculture. However, after the war, demand and prices for the still-dominant agriculture industry dropped. The Great Depression only worsened the economic suffering and Kansans supported Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal efforts to prop up the price of wheat. In 1940, though, Midwestern native Wendell Willkie was able to win back rural, small town areas in the Northern U.S. Through these victories, he was able to bring the state back to its Republican roots even as he lost the election to Roosevelt.

As the country mobilized for World War II, Kansas’s economy shifted. The state was already home to a healthy aircraft industry, but the spike in demand increased production and output. Wichita became known as the “Air Capital of the World” and drove up Kansas’s population and manufacturing capacity. The rise of the aeronautical industry, along with the continued growth of Kansas’s transportation and energy industries, diversified the state’s economy and helped grow the state’s two biggest metropolitan areas — Kansas City and Wichita.

Through the 20th Century, Kansas’s agricultural, transportation, energy, and manufacturing industries reigned. Acting as a crossroads for the country, Kansas City would eventually become one of the country’s largest railroad hubs. Boeing, Spirit Aerosystems, Beechcraft and other aeronautical companies would build their airplanes in the state. Oil refiner Koch Industries continued to expand its headquarters, operations, and political influence there as well.

Apart from this developing economy, Kansas also took part in one of the most influential Supreme Court cases in American History: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Through the mid 1950s, Kansas permitted public schools to be segregated by race. The 1954 decision against the Topeka Board of Education declared the segregation of public schools unconstitutional for violating the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Recent Electoral History

Through the economic and social changes of the latter half of the 20th Century, Kansas remained staunchly Republican.  Only one Democrat — Lyndon Johnson in 1964 — was able to carry the state. Year after year, the state’s more rural western half became staunchly Republican while the more urban east, though still Republican, was more friendly to Democrats. The 1972 electoral map by county in comparison to the 2000 map neatly illustrates this regional sorting.     

Since 2000, Kansas has remained consistently more Republican than the nation. It has not, however, been trending towards either party. Between 2000 and 2016, the Republican nominee received between 10% and 13% more of the popular vote in Kansas than they did nationwide. From a bird’s eye it looks like not much has changed within the state over these five elections. In fact, Kansas’s county map has stayed pretty constant. In each of those years, the Republican nominee carried every county except Wyandotte (Kansas City) and Douglas (Lawrence). In 2008, Barack Obama also edged out John McCain in a Crawford County (Pittsburg). Outside of those populous eastern counties, however, Republicans swept the state.

Recent Voting Trends

The reality, however, involves taking a deeper look at intrastate dynamics and shifting party alliances. Republicans have been improving their margins in the rural, agrarian parts of the state. Take, for example, the rural Thomas County in the state’s northwest and Neosho in the Southeast. While George W. Bush carried them by 54% and 20% in 2000, Donald Trump did so by 68% and 46% in 2016.

Three of the state’s biggest counties, which make up about 35% of the Kansas vote, are Wyandotte (Kansas City), Johnson (Kansas City suburbs), and Douglas (Lawrence/University of Kansas). Again comparing 2016 to 2000, these counties shifted to the Democratic nominee by 9%, 21%, and 30%, respectively. Some of the state’s other most populous counties — Sedgwick (Wichita) and Shawnee (Topeka) have not shifted far leftward, but instead have grown in size.

The state’s growing urban and suburban areas have shifted decisively Democratic while the shrinking rural areas have swung overwhelmingly Republican. These two trends balance out in the state’s topline results, creating a more polarized Kansas.

The 2018 gubernatorial election, in which Democrat Laura Kelly won, appears shocking given Kansans Republican loyalty. But the state has historically elevated ideological moderates in the mold of Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole and, going back to 1957, regularly crossed party lines in gubernatorial elections. In 2010, however, Kansas elected Republican Sam Brownback, who pushed unpopular conservative fiscal and social policies with the help of his Secretary of State Kris Kobach. By the time he resigned to become ambassador at large for international religious freedom, he was the second least popular governor in the country. When Kansas Republicans nominated the extremely unpopular Kobach for the 2018 gubernatorial election, Democrats found themselves within reach of a deep red state’s top job. Kelly, the Democratic nominee, improved on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins in every single county in the state and won the election 48% to 43%.

Kobach is trying for higher office again in 2020, hoping to win the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Pat Roberts. It is unclear if Kobach or U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall will advance in the state's primary. However, some forecasters see the race as more competitive with Kobach as nominee.   A February poll had him tied with the likely Democratic opponent, State Sen. Barbara Bollier. This is particularly notable as Kansas has not elected a Democratic Senator since 1932, the longest such GOP Senate winning streak in the nation.

Even with this recent Democratic success, however, Donald Trump is a safe bet to win Kansas in November. He is popular in the state and voters are less willing to cross party lines when voting for president. Once again, the topline results in Kansas will probably hide interesting trends. If the state’s growing urban areas begin to overpower the shrinking rural ones and shift the state a few points leftward, it could indicate a future in which presidential Democrats are competitive in the state. That, however, is a long way down the road. For now, Kansas is safely Republican.

Next Week: Rhode Island   

Reports in this series:

Tulsi Gabbard Suspends Campaign; Endorses Joe Biden

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii announced Thursday that she was ending her bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Gabbard will throw her support behind former Vice-President Joe Biden.

A once historically large Democratic presidential field is down to Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Biden opened up a significant delegate lead after Tuesday's primaries, the last likely to be held for some time due to the coronavirus outbreak. Sanders said Wednesday he was reassessing his campaign.

Biden Sweeps Tuesday Primaries; Sanders to Assess Campaign

Joe Biden swept Tuesday's primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. When all is final, he will likely have more than doubled his delegate lead over Bernie Sanders. 

As of this morning, Biden has just under 60% of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination. Sanders would need to win about 63% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination. The increasingly difficult math, as well as a presidential contest essentially now on hold due to the coronavirus, has the campaign assessing how to proceed.  

In a statement, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said "The next primary contest is at least three weeks away. Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.”


Donald Trump Clinches Renomination

Donald Trump has surpassed 1,276 delegates, clinching the 2020 Republican nomination.  Wins Tuesday in Florida and Illinois put the president over the top.

Trump has won every delegate thus far, except for one in Iowa. However, Iowa rules specify that delegate can vote for Trump if he is the only candidate nominated, which seems likely.

March 17 Primaries: Overview and Live Results

Live Results

President - Democratic Primaries President - Republican Primaries


Illinois and Ohio (postponed) hold their regular primary elections as well. We'll have results for any contested congressional races.

Illinois Ohio - Postponed

Polls Close (Eastern Time)

Your individual polling place may have different hours. Do not rely on this to determine when to vote. Total Democratic pledged delegates by closing time are displayed.

7:00 PM 0 Florida [ET]1
7:30 PM 136 Ohio - Postponed (136)
8:00 PM 374 Florida [CT] (219), Illinois (155)
10:00 PM 67 Arizona (67)

Most of the state is in this time zone. Some results may display during this hour, but no race call will be made until all the polls are closed.

Democratic Polling Averages & Delegate Estimates

Joe Biden is polling well ahead of Bernie Sanders in each of three states going forward with their scheduled primaries. While Sanders is expected to earn delegates, the end of the night may see the former Vice-President's delegate advantage more than double.

For polling detail, see the Democratic nomination home page. Select a state on the map. To see delegate information for completed contests and create your own forecast, see the interactive delegate calculator.

Recommended Reading

How to Watch Tuesday's Primaries Like a Pro - Politico provides an overview of the states voting today.

Final Forecast for Arizona, Florida and Illinois - FiveThirtyEight's forecast for the three states holding primaries today.  Joe Biden is expected to sweep all three contests.

Ohio Supreme Court Allows Delay to Primary - A confusing court battle played out Monday and early Tuesday. Bottom line is no Ohio primary today. A suggested new date of June 2 is tentative.

The Road to 270: Nebraska

The Road to 270 is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.


Nebraska is all but certain to vote for Donald Trump this November. The state, however, is one of two that awards Electoral College votes by congressional district. Nebraska’s second district is far more competitive than the state as a whole and could prove decisive in a close presidential election. As such, this week’s article will be a little different than usual. The first half will focus on Nebraska’s history and political landscape at large and the second half will zoom in to the competitive Omaha-based district.

Road to Statehood

In 1541, over 350 years before Nebraska would become a part of the United States, a Spanish explorer claimed the territory for his country. A French explorer did the same in 1682, causing land disputes that persisted until the United States bought the land from France as a part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.   

On their expedition to cross the country, Lewis and Clark explored the eastern and northeastern parts of the territory that border the Missouri River. A half century later, about a quarter of the Oregon Trail would lie within the future-state. In 1854, the United States established the Nebraska Territory in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a law most famous for repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing states to independently determine the legality of slavery within their borders. The new Nebraska Territory comprised parts of modern-day Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. 

After Congress squeezed Native Americans into reservations and opened the region to settlers through the Homestead Act of 1862, the population began to grow. The growth, helped along by the Union Pacific Railroad establishing its terminus and headquarters in Omaha, continued through the mid-century. In 1867, with the state's newly inflated population, Congress admitted Nebraska to the Union. 

Growth and Republican Dominance

Over the next three decades, Omaha’s population would explode. Settlers continued to come for the fertile prairie land; workers immigrated to work in the meatpacking and railroad industry. Sixty miles south of Omaha, Lincoln grew around the University of Nebraska. The population grew from 29,000 in 1860 to 1,062,000 in 1890. More people moved to the state in those thirty years than would do so in the next 130.  

In the 1890s, economic depression, low crop prices, and drought lowered farmers’ incomes and expectations, the latter of which had been inflated by particularly friendly agricultural conditions of the 1880s.  

These economic conditions helped the populist silverite, William Jennings Bryan, rise to national prominence. The Nebraska Congressman’s 1894 speaking tour promoting the coinage of silver, a policy to raise inflation and help indebted farmers, launched him into the spotlight and his 1896 presidential run.  

Bryan would run for president as a Democrat three times — in 1896, 1900, and 1908. He would carry his home state of Nebraska in the first and third runs while losing it in his second. For a state that had voted Republican since its first presidential election in 1868 — a product of the Civil War’s geographic split — voting Democratic was unusual. Nebraska would again vote for Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1912 as Republicans split their vote between Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. Wilson would also win the state in 1916, a reward for keeping the U.S. out of World War I.  

From there, Nebraska’s presidential electoral history is simple: no Democrat would win statewide outside of the massive landslides in 1932, 1936, and 1964. After 1964, every Republican nominee would carry the state by double digits.

While the state suffered during the Great Depression, it was not friendly to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Nebraskans opposed what they saw as government overreach and opposed Roosevelt in his 1940 and 1944 reelection bids.

A Changing Economy and Recent Elections

During and after World War II, Nebraska’s economy changed. In 1940, the Army constructed an aircraft plant near Omaha, a decision that built the region’s manufacturing capacity and workforce. After the war, the plant was renamed Offutt Air Force Base and become the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command.

As agriculture became less lucrative and farmers fell into debt, Nebraska’s family farms began to condense. Factory farms expanded their acreage while farmers moved from their rural homesteads into the state’s suburban and urban areas. In the late 1980s, the economy — helped along with government tax incentives — shifted towards manufacturing and oil refining. A number of large companies — Berkshire Hathaway, Kiewit, Tenaska — built and expanded headquarters in Omaha. An ecosystem of smaller financial, telecommunications, and insurance companies built up around these established companies and the University of Nebraska helped churn out a qualified workforce.  

Even with this new economy, Omaha and Nebraska still relied on their historical economic pillars — agriculture and meatpacking. These traditional industries drew in workers, many of them black and Hispanic, growing and diversifying the state’s population. Omaha in particular became a home for young transplants looking for jobs and a low cost of living.

The state as a whole, however, is still 88% white and votes accordingly. Nebraska has long been far to the right of the nation, and that trend continued into the 21st Century. George W. Bush carried the state by 29% and 33% in 2000 and 2004. John McCain won by a less impressive, but still safe, 15%, in 2008. Mitt Romney expanded the margin to 22% in 2012. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 25%, a 59% to 34% victory. Trump carried all but two counties — Douglas (Omaha) and Lancaster (Lincoln) — in his 2016 rout.

Nebraska’s Second Congressional District

Nebraska, however, is one of two states that divides its Electoral College votes by congressional district. The state awards one electoral vote to the popular vote winner within each district and two to the statewide popular vote winner.

Nebraska has used this formula since 1992. Barack Obama is the only presidential candidate to successfully isolate one of the state’s electoral votes since it adopted the Congressional District Method. In fact, this is the only electoral vote any Democrat has received from Nebraska since Lyndon Johnson carried the state in his 1964 blowout. In 2008, Barack Obama won the state’s second congressional district 49.8% to John McCain’s 48.6% (a margin of just 3,400 votes) even as he lost the statewide popular vote and the other two congressional districts.

At the time, the second district included all of Douglas County (Omaha) and the eastern portions of its southern neighbor, Sarpy County. Sarpy’s eastern third includes the Offutt Airforce Base and Bellevue, a region friendlier to Democrats than Sarpy’s rural western parts. After the 2010 Census, Nebraska’s ostensibly nonpartisan legislature redrew the second district’s lines to include Sarpy’s more Republican west while removing the more Democratic east. The redraw only slightly shifted the district’s partisan balance at the time and Mitt Romney would have carried it in 2012 regardless. Under the new lines, Romney beat Obama in NE-02 by 7.1%.

In 2016, as suburban and college educated white voters swung away from Donald Trump, the second district came back into contention. Hillary Clinton stopped in the district for a campaign rally with Warren Buffett and her campaign aired ads, but it was not enough. Donald Trump carried the district 48.2% to Hillary Clinton’s 46% — a 2.2% and 6,400 vote margin. Clinton carried Douglas County by 2% but Trump overwhelmed her with a 24% margin in the portion of the district that lies in in Sarpy County.

The district is 82% white, 9% black, and 6% Hispanic, a racial breakdown that is similar, but about 5% more black, than the state as a whole. The second district’s white population, however, is more educated than the state’s overall white population. Thirty-three percent of white people in the state have Bachelor’s Degrees compared to 44% of white voters in the second district. Among white voters, those with college degrees are far more Democratic. The second district’s higher portion of college-educated white and black voters make it more friendly to Democrats than the whiter, less educated population of Nebraska overall.

In a particularly close election, the second district could decide the Electoral College. If the Democratic nominee were to flip Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, while leaving the rest of the map identical to 2016, the nominees would be tied at 269 electoral votes. If the Democrat were able to flip NE-02, it would push them to a 270-268 victory. This is just one of several plausible scenarios in which Nebraska’s lone electoral vote could be the tie-making or tie-breaking electoral vote.

As the parties’ coalitions shift and suburban and college-educated white voters move to the Democratic Party, NE-02 looks increasingly like a district Democrats should be able to flip. If Donald Trump is able to again squeak out a victory here, he will be leaning heavily on Sarpy County while hoping not to get smothered in Douglas.

For now, Nebraska’s second district is a Toss-Up. The system for awarding electoral votes here will draw outsize attention to a state that is almost certain to go to Donald Trump by 20 to 30%. November’s presidential contest may well be decided by three Rust Belt states, three Sun Belt states, and a small congressional district in the heart of the country: Nebraska’s Second.   

Next Week: Kansas    

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